by rstra3 on March 2, 2015 - 9:30pm
“The major challenge for humanity in the twenty-first century is to learn to live within the web of life on Earth without destroying it.” (Cassils, 2004)
With a population that has recently reached and exceeded 7 billion people, the interwoven problems in relation to overpopulation, consumption, resource depletion, and environmental degradation continues to be compounded upon (Ehrlich, 2012). Overpopulation in relation to these other factors is not strictly an issue among the science community, but is also a highly political and economic issue as well.
When talking about environmental degradation in relation to overpopulation, the human population is having profound effects on the flow of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere from driving cars, transporting goods, running agricultural systems, heating and lighting homes and businesses, and from deforestation (Ehrlich, 2012). This degradation of the environment due to population can then be tied to human consumption. With the increased consumption of resources the human population is able to continue to grow, extrapolating on the environmental issues that currently exist. As the environmental issues plaguing the planet continue to worsen, the human population will have to expand their consumption into areas that are not ideal and are of less than desirable quality. This exploitation of less than desirable resources, for example using marginal land for agriculture, will require more energy input to get the same quality and amount of resource output, for more people than before, increasing the current global environmental climatic issues (Ehrlich, 2012). Not only is the climate an area of environmental concern stemming from the many facets of overpopulation, but this outreach to exploiting lesser resources to keep up with the increased consumption demands of a growing population also will have, arguably, more devastating effects on biodiversity loss and toxification of the planet, in which no geo-engineering ‘solutions’ have been proposed unlike with climate change (Ehrlich, 2012).
In stating that overpopulation is an economic and political issue, I don’t mean that the population is negatively effecting politics or the economy, I mean that economically and politically, population increase is desirable and encouraged, which does not tend to put the environment on the top of the priority list. Real estate developers want more people who can buy their homes, immigration lawyers want more immigrants because it is good for business, and governments favor population increase to spread the burden of public debt (Cassils, 2004). These are just some examples of how overpopulation is an economic issue. The economic successes of the wealthy fraction of humanity are based on continual expansion, and place their immediate well-being and interests above the long lasting well-being of the majority of humanity and the environment (Cassils, 2004). As rich countries and populations continue to consume, the less available resources there will be for lesser developed countries, and eventually for those rich countries themselves (Ehrlich, 2012). Also in relation to economics, politics, consumption and population increase, developed countries, who are consuming the most, generally have fertility rates below replacement level, but less developed countries have dropped little or not at all in fertility rates (Cassils, 2004). In the pursuit of becoming a more developed country economically and politically, less developed countries will continue to increase their populations and consumption habits which will only continue to worsen the environmental state of the planet right along with the steady and continual degradation already present from the developed world.
Human population growth, consumption, environmental degradation, economics and politics are all married global issues that need to be addressed as a unit instead of as individual components to the global environmental dilemma. With having the mindset, that as a globe, we need to continue to expand our population and consumption patterns in order to continue as a successful species is counterintuitive, self-destructive, and asinine. That type of thinking will only cause increased and possibly irreversible environmental degradation and political and economic unrest. A distinguished economist, Kenneth Boulding, in 1966 said it best: ‘Anyone who believes that exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist’ (Ehrlich, 2012).
Ehrlich, P. R., A. H. Ehrlich. 2012. Solving the human predicament. International Journal of Environmental Studies 69: 557–565.
Cassils, J. A. 2004. Overpopulation, Sustainable Development, and Security: Developing an Integrated Strategy. Population and Environment 25: 171-194.